Fall is harvest time for Winter Squash at Terra Firma. Despite its name, Winter Squash is a grown in the summer: planted around Memorial Day and picked after Labor Day. We’re about two-thirds done with this year’s harvest, which we hope to wrap up before the next rain or by Halloween, whichever comes first.
While it can be grown in many places, Winter Squash is almost perfectly adapted for the region where we farm. It loves hot, dry weather and thrives on our fertile clay soil. The warm days and cool nights in the fall are also perfect for “curing” the squash, the process by which the fruit dries and the starches convert to sugar. Depending on the variety, this process takes from two to six weeks. Once the squash is cured, it will store for up to 5 months — hence the “Winter” in its name. And unlike many of the crops we grow, it needs no refrigeration.
There are a dozen different “types” of Winter Squash, including ornamental types, and thousands of varieties. Over the years, we have identified a handful of varieties that grow well here while covering the culinary bases for our subscribers.
Butternut is the workhorse of the bunch. It can be baked, roasted in cubes, boiled in soup. It makes better desserts than standard pumpkin. And it’s relatively easy to peel. From a farmer’s perspective, Butternut is a no-brainer, as it is vigorous, disease-resistant, extremely productive and stores for a long time.
Japanese-type squashes like Kubocha and Kuri have a unique texture and very sweet flavor, but they are not well adapted for our area and lack insect resistance. Happily, plant breeders recently figured out how to overcome those problems — by cross-breeding with…Butternut. We have been growing one of those varieties, called Tetsukabuto, for three years now and you will see it in your boxes later in the season.
Delicata type squash is quite different from most other Winter Squashes. It’s much smaller, about the size of a Sweet Potato, and the flesh is lighter and more, uh, delicate. And the skin is edible, making it more versatile in the kitchen.
For all these reasons, Delicata has become more and more popular with shoppers. But it is still a “niche” crop, and most seed companies do not offer it. The seed that is available is generally unreliable. Sometimes the plants produce weird looking varieties, or fruit that isn’t sweet. Or the seed is just bad quality, with low vigor or poor production.
Last year, I found out that a local seed company had created a hybridized Delicata. We did a small trial and found it performed extremely well compared to traditional open-pollinated ones. The plants were more vigorous and healthier, and the fruit were significantly larger — although not “too large”.
This year, 100% of our Delicata is the new variety, and it did not disappoint. We have a bumper crop of beautiful, tasty squash. You’ll be seeing it in your boxes fairly often, and we also have it available for bulk purchase in the web store.